Creatine, whey protein, beta-alanine among picks in NFL-style draft at SupplySide West

Experts squared off at SSW to choose the best ingredients for winning sports nutrition formulas.

Denis Faye

December 1, 2023

5 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Two ingredient experts chose the best sports nutrition ingredients in a fun, NFL draft-style event.
  • Claims had to be backed by credible science for ingredients to be eligible to be picked.

On Oct. 25 at SupplySide West, two industry veterans—Doug Kalman, Ph.D., and Blake Ebersole—squared off in Mandalay Bay’s Islander Ballroom C to pick their top-tier supplements for the 2023 National Formulation League (NFL) draft.

Kalman, co-founder of Substantiation Sciences Inc., and Ebersole, president and founder of NaturPro Scientific LLC, took the stage as part of the “Sports nutrition quits the gym and goes mainstreameducational session to discuss active lifestyle supplement ingredients and select their favorites, NFL draft-style.

This year’s draft consisted of five rounds with the two teams alternating picks from a 30-ingredient Big Board. Early round picks were based on strong science and clear benefits, and later rounds focused on emerging ingredients and newer clinical trials.

Here’s a blow-by-blow of how the action played out.

Round one: Creatine, whey protein

Team Kalman chose first (“Because I control the clicker,” Kalman declared), opting for crowd-favorite creatine.

In addition to creatine’s ability to increase the body’s endurance during anaerobic efforts and its cognitive benefits, “an underappreciated aspect of creatine is its antioxidant abilities,” Kalman shared. “And believe it or not, creatine has demonstrated the ability to temper inflammation. It's an all-around game changer.”

Related:Bodybuilding’s also-rans are healthy aging’s rising stars

Team Ebersole’s first pick was sports nutrition mainstay whey protein.

Whey has the complete amino acid profile, including the limiting amino acids not found in many other proteins. It’s also sustainable when grown in the U.S., and it supports American dairy farmers. “Whey protein has more studies than almost any other protein source out there,” Ebersole said. “Whey protein is my No. 1 pick.”

Round two: Plant proteins, astaxanthin

Countering Ebersole’s protein power play, Kalman announced plant proteins as his round two pick.

“We're gonna claim all of the plants,” Kalman asserted, “not just one plant. The data show that, when you have sufficient protein intake, plant proteins more than support the ability to gain and maintain the lean body mass we need to compete as athletes.”

Plant protein can also play roles in cardiovascular health and longevity—and has a positive impact on body composition. As the scientist bluntly stated, “You look better naked.”

For round two, Team Ebersole went with the red-hued phytonutrient astaxanthin.

Performance and recovery are the hallmarks of astaxanthin clinical research. As an antioxidant, it's unparalleled,” Ebersole boasted of his new player.

Related:Experts say survey-based research is highly effective tool, when done properly

Astaxanthin also offers potential eye and brain health benefits. “Personally, when I take astaxanthin, I'm ready to tackle the day,” he observed.

Round three: Beta-alanine, ashwagandha

Team Kalman’s third pick was beta-alanine.

“When we are exercising at higher intensities, we have an accumulation of acid ions inside our muscle cells,” Kalman explained. “Beta-alanine acts as an intracellular buffer so you can go harder, longer.”

“But it’s more than just a buffer,” he added. “Research has come out of the Israeli military showing that beta-alanine has some cognitive benefits.”

Team Ebersole drafted the pungent adaptogen ashwagandha root extract.

“It reduces fatigue, provides energy during the day, and provides restful sleep at night,” Ebersole said. “There are a number of clinical trials showing that it improves the stress response and cortisol levels in a circadian fashion, so at the time of day that your cortisol is highest, it lowers it.”

Round four: Carbohydrates, Rhodiola rosea root

For round four, Team Kalman selected carbohydrates for their benefits as fuel.

“Our bodies have the ability to store carbohydrates as glycogen,” Kalman stated, “which are used during extended exercise or during extended fasts.”

“Carbohydrates are also used to help fuel the mind,” he added. “Your brain requires about one-fifth to one-fourth the amount of your total caloric needs, and it prefers to use glucose.”

Ebersole drafted a second adaptogen, Rhodiola rosea root.

“As athletes, we need to adapt to stress, both mental and physical,” Ebersole said. “Several studies show rhodiola reduced fatigue and improved performance.”

One concern is that Rhodiola rosea is protected under the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) inter-governmental treaty. “There are restrictions as far as importation,” Ebersole cautioned. “That needs to be developed a little bit further, but there's promise for this player with a couple years.”

Round five: Caffeine, alternative proteins

Kalman wrapped his top five with caffeine. As he put it, “It's been the original ergogenic since a little bit after Moses.”

“Caffeine is a natural stimulant,” Kalman said. “It raises pain threshold. It also enhances cognitive performance, whether you are fatigued or not fatigued. Surprisingly enough, caffeine's also been found to have antioxidant activity.”

Ebersole selected alternative proteins for the final official round.

“Alternative proteins can address global food shortages and feed our athletes as well,” Ebersole maintained. “There are many types: fermented, cooked, purified, regenerative—and there's a consumer for each one of these. We have that opportunity to optimize agriculture and nutrition.”

Round six (bonus!): Beet root extract, marine heme iron

The draft went into a bonus round with Team Kalman picking beet root extract for its ability to improve aerobic capacity and delay fatigue during high-intensity training. Kalman also picked omega-3 fatty acids for promoting healthy inflammatory response, supporting positive mood states, and reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Team Ebersol went with marine heme iron for its high absorption and tolerability at high doses. He also picked clinically studied polyphenols for both recovery and performance.

From there, the two teams rounded out their picks with various emerging, undrafted free agents including collagen, HMB, citrulline, essential amino acids (EAAs) and tyrosine.

Admittedly, the evidence wasn’t as strong for many of the late-rounders, but they still deserved consideration. “One of them might be the next Tom Brady or Brock Purdy,” Kalman suggested, “depending on what kind of fan you are.”

[For the complete toolbox of sports nutrition intel—formulation hacks, marketing tips, executive intel—download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine on sports and active nutrition here.]

About the Author(s)

Denis Faye

Denis Faye, MS, is a nutrition communications consultant and committed competitive athlete who splits his time between writing, riding, running and raising his family. Occasionally, he sleeps.

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